So let’s talk about London. Vastly different from Edinburgh. The train ride down was smooth and peaceful. Like my flight to Venice, I was blessed with two empty seats, so naturally I took the one by the window. I had packed a few bread rolls from Sainsbury’s, as well as a canned drink for the ride. I had downloaded some music the night before that I had “shazamed” in the last few weeks. To anyone who knows me, I pay special attention to what is played in pubs, clothing stores, or the soundtracks to movies. This music soothed me as I watched vigilantly out the train car window. The Scottish and English countryside is exactly as people say it is: green, lush, and, at times, desolate. I saw a lot of sheep, some with black faces, some with white. Horses too, huddled together in muddy paddocks under tattered blankets.
I met Meredith at the Kings Cross train station in the early afternoon. We rounded the corner and I saw a thick queue (pronounced “Q” which is the Scottish/British way of saying “line”) leading to an old-fashioned train trolley (or luggage/shopping cart) stuck halfway through the brick wall. It was platform 9 and 3/4.
After checking into Gallery Hyde Park Hostel, Mere and I set off for the afternoon. She showed me the fancy neighborhood her apartment is located in, one that is famed for housing Adele. “She’s in L.A. right now though,” Mere said as we walked the bright, clean boulevards of Kensington. We got burgers for dinner from a local place and took the Tube to Westminster station. I trudged up the steps, and then Meredith told me to look up. Big Ben, as if out of nowhere, scraped the sky above my head.
We walked by the famed abbey, and then listened as the bell tolled inside the clock tower. I grew up watching a Disney movie called “The Great Mouse Detective,” a sort of spin off of Sherlock Holmes for kids. In the second to last scene, the “falling-action” scene where Basil of Baker Street battles the evil Rat King, their fight happens inside the clock of Big Ben on a stormy London night. As the bell struck in raspy tones, this childhood memory came to me.
Wednesday was a blast; Meredith’s professor let me do a walking tour with the rest of the class. It was geared towards Charles Dickens, and the poverty he wrote about in the city. I love his work, and was thrilled to learn about a section of London through the lens of Dickens, as well as the history around the area.
I saw the London eye both at night when it glowed a cold red and in the day when it floated slowly around and around.
I walked around the Globe on a night when it rained hard with Meredith, her roommate Emily, and I. We talked about travel, the ups and downs of it, and where we dreamed of going someday. Emily had been to a lot of places I wanted to go, and she and I exchanged information about the places we desired to travel to. Emily was interested in Edinburgh, and asked me a bit about it. I liked being able to vouch for Scotland; I felt like a legitimate local, telling people all about Edinburgh and being able to answer questions about the city for curious travelers.
The biggest difference I noticed while in London when compared to Edinburgh is transportation. Meredith takes the Tube quite literally everywhere. I, on the other hand, walk everywhere. I have only taken the public bus when I need to get to and from the airport. The Tube is a very nice facility, running constantly and smoothly all over the city all day and night long. It is, as I am sure some have heard, expensive. To conserve money, I’d walk to Meredith’s apartment through Hyde Park. Honestly, this was my favorite part of London. Like Central Park in New York City, this park makes one feel like they are hardly in a major city at all. As I walked through on that first morning, I heard the faint roar and lurch of taxis and buses. They felt far away though, and I felt peace amongst the stress and madness travel can inflict. I felt strong as I walked, the muscles in my legs functioning fully and my feet bearing my weight effortlessly. I think a part of why I found it a little hard to enjoy London as much as I love Edinburgh is because I couldn’t walk everywhere. I like the ide of being able to get to where I want or need to go on my own two feet. While Europe, and London especially, has public transport down pat, I think walking is the favored way of getting around for me.
A man in Hyde Park that morning was walking with his dog, no leash to be seen. The dog was probably some kind of retriever; it’s fur blond and straight. It carried a wet, large twig in its teeth. Every few paces it would run around the feet of the man and drop the stick on the path, cock it’s head to the side, and wag its feathery tail. The man ignored the dog’s desire for play, walking on through the park. The dog’s behavior made me laugh outright.
I didn’t shower the whole time I was in London. The hostel I stayed at was quality in most regards (free breakfast and tea every morning, safe environment, interesting people), however, I asked four separate times to rent towels (since the establishment offered them) and each time there were none for me. While this may have been out of their control, the system of towel-renting seemed flawed in many respects.
I didn’t sleep much Thursday, my last night in London, due to a girl in my room (I shared one with five or six other girls) snoring like a duck the entire night. However, the next morning I rolled off my bunk, tied up my greasy hair, packed my little rucksack and checked out, all more or less with a smile on my face.
There were two young children screaming and crying throughout the flight to Bilbao. It was like they were having a competition as to which could make more noise. Or, like they were communicating to each other by means of screams, shrieks and wails.
Bilbao was a dream! Though Meredith and I got there late Friday night, we met up with Hannah, got on the cheap public bus, checked into our hostel (which was honestly more like a fancy hotel for a hostel price!) and got late night dinner. Before going out though, of course, I was able to shower for the first time in four days. That was, well…direly needed. I slept like a rock on the mattress that was (tragically) more comfy than the one I sleep on in Scotland.
We had all day Saturday together, so we were up early exploring the cute little city. We ate sour tangerines (that were only 9 cents!) and walked through the fish market. We walked through the Plaza Nueva, where we would later have tapas and red wine for dinner. Then we walked beside the canal that runs through the small city, soaking in the sun. We came upon the Guggenheim museum, as well as a few street performers (massive bubble makers, men playing flutes, violins, guitars and saxophones). We decided not to go inside the museum, due to it being a bit expensive, and not all of us were major fans of pop, modern art. However, there was a lot of artistic structures all around that part of the canal, (including the famed creepy crawler spider statue) and that was enough for me.
We crossed over one of the beautiful bridges (that reminded me faintly of the lovely bridges in Portland, Oregon) to get to the funicular de Artxanda. Hannah had told us the night before about this sort of ski lift type of thing that takes you up one of the foothills (since Bilbao is surrounded by mountains) for 95 cents! I was thrilled to do this, and the view was so beautiful.
I asked Hannah a lot of questions; I was so curious about this beautiful little place not many people have talked about. When people think of Spain, nine out of ten times, students studying abroad will scream Barcelona. The other major Spanish city people will go to and talk about is Madrid. I was surprised when my Irish flat mate told me he had been to Bilbao. Hannah told me about Bask (not sure if that is how you spell it?) the native language of that region of Spain. She told me about how the schools there make the language part of the curriculum so that it does not die out. I thought about how people in Scotland do the same for Gaelic as well as Scots language. I think this is important, and it made me appreciate Bilbao even more.
The tapas we had for both lunch and dinner were to die for. Meat is a major component to the food culture here. There was fish in almost every stand in the market we walked through Saturday morning. There were butcher shops on every block, and we even discovered a vending machine that sold packaged meat! The wine was also excellent, and of course Hannah had Meredith and I eat Churros for the first time. It was astounding, and utterly delightful.
We had to wake super early to get back to the U.K., so Meredith and I went to be early that night. We heard men down below in the bar across from out hostel singing happy birthday in Spanish. If ever in Europe, or in need of a beautiful, chill place to spend a few days, I highly suggest Bilbao.
This weekend I’ll be going on a three day tour in the Scottish Highlands through my school. We will go to Inverness (which I have heard good things about), Loch Ness (why not, if you are in Scotland?) and Isle of the Skye. I am quite excited! Until then, your proper Scottish lassie is signing off for the moment!